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Showing posts from June, 2018

Shooting oneself in one’s own foot: Pakistan’s failed effort to evade terrorism finance listing

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By James M. Dorsey
The Pakistani government’s removal of a virulently anti-Shiite militant from its terrorism list at the very moment that an international money laundering and terrorism finance watchdog was deciding to put the country on a watchlist highlights Pakistan’s struggle to come to grips with militancy.
The decision by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) that was reported by Pakistani media but has yet to be announced by the group itself also puts China’s ambiguous attitude towards Pakistani militants on the spot.
It further raises questions about attitudes of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Saudi Arabia attitude towards Pakistani militants.
Like China, Saudi Arabia has adopted contradictory attitudes towards Pakistani militants, supporting those that serve its geopolitical objectives while seeking to neutralize militants that either threaten its interests or are of little value to the kingdom.
Saudi Arabia and China paved the way for this week’s decision to put Pak…

Iran’s Chabahar port is where Asian and Middle Eastern rivalries collide

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Credit: GlobalVillageSpace
By James M. Dorsey
Iran’s Indian-back port of Chabahar, inaugurated months before the United States re-imposed sanctions on the Islamic republic, is where Asia and the Middle East’s multiple political conflicts and commercial rivalries collide.
Chabahar was destined to become a player in geopolitical and economic manoeuvring between China, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Central Asian states even without the re-imposition of sanctions.
The sanctions have, however, significantly enhanced its importance as Iran struggles to offset the likely punishing impact of US efforts to force the Islamic republic to alter its foreign and defense policy and/or achieve a change of regime.
Iran sees the port together with the Indian-backed Chabahar Free Trade Zone, that hopes to host a steel mill and a petrochemical complex, as the motor of development of the Iranian section of the Makran coast. Iran’s province of Sistan and Balochist…

Malaysian-Saudi relations: A lesson in the pitfalls of authoritarianism and autocracy

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By James M. Dorsey
Embattled former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak was the main loser in last month’s election upset that returned Mahathir Mohamad to power as his country’s anti-corruption crusader. Yet, Mr. Razak is not the only one who may be paying the price for allegedly non-transparent and unaccountable governance.
So is Saudi Arabia with a Saudi company having played a key role in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) scandal in which Mr. Razak is suspected to have overseen the siphoning off of at least US$4.5 billion and the Saudi government seemingly having gone out of its way to provide him political cover.
While attention has focussed largely on the re-opening of the investigation of Mr. Razak and his wife, Rosmah Mansor, both of whom have been banned from travel abroad and have seen their homes raided by law enforcement, Saudi Arabia has not escaped policymakers’ consideration. Mr. Razak has denied all allegations of wrongdoing.
The geopolitical fallout of the sca…

Indonesian Muslim leader signals global shifts in meetings with Pence and Netanyahu

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By James M. Dorsey
Yahya Staquf, a diminutive, soft-spoken leader of Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest Muslim movement, and Indonesian president Joko Widodo’s advisor on religious affairs, has held a series of meetings in recent weeks that reflect the Muslim world’s shifting attitudes towards Israel and the Palestinians and a re-alignment of socially conservative Muslim and Christian interests.
Just this month, Mr. Staquf, a staunch advocate of inter-faith dialogue and religious tolerance, met in Washington with Vice President Mike Pence, a devout evangelist Catholic who has described himself as "a Christian, a conservative, and a Republican, in that order," and in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu.
Messrs. Pence and Staquf were joined by Reverend Johnnie Moore, an evangelist who in May was appointed by US President Donald J. Trump as a member of the board of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Mr. Staquf’s discussions would likel…

Eurasianism wins in Turkey even if ideologue loses election

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By James M. Dorsey
He’s been in and out of prison during Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rule and is running against the president in this weekend’s Turkish elections with no chance of defeating him and little hope of winning a seat in parliament.
Yet, Dogu Perincek wields significant influence in Turkey’s security and intelligence establishment and sees much of his Eurasianist ideology reflected in Mr. Erdogan’s foreign policy.
With Mr. Erdogan likely to emerge victorious from Sunday’s election despite the opposition posing its most serious challenge to date, Mr. Perincek looks set to be a winner even if he does not make it into parliament.
Messrs. Erdogan and Perincek seem at first glance poles apart. Mr. Perincek is a maverick socialist and a militant secularist whose conspiratorial worldview identifies the United States at the core of all evil. By contrast, Mr. Erdogan carries his Islamism and nationalism on his sleeve.
Nonetheless, Mr. Perincek’s philosophy and world of contacts in Rus…

The Saudi-Moroccan spat: Competing for the mantle of moderate Islam

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King Mohammed prays in a mosque in Zanzibar
By James M. Dorsey
Lurking in the background of a Saudi-Moroccan spat over World Cup hosting rights and the Gulf crisis is a more fundamental competition for the mantle of spearheading promotion of a moderate interpretation of Islam.
It’s a competition in which history and long-standing religious diplomacy gives Morocco a leg up compared to Saudi Arabia, long a citadel of Sunni Muslim intolerance and ultra-conservatism.
Saudi Arabia is the new, baggage-laden kid on the block with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman asserting that he is returning the kingdom to a top-down, undefined form of moderate Islam.
To be sure, Prince Mohammed has dominated headlines in the last year with long-overdue social reforms such as lifting the ban on women’s driving and loosening restrictions on cultural expression and entertainment.
The crown prince has further bolstered his projection of a kingdom that is putting ultra-conservative social and religious strictu…

Morocco may have lost the World Cup but could lead the way in protest

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Credit: Morocco World News
By James M. Dorsey
Mounting anger and discontent is simmering across the Arab world much like it did in the walk-up to the 2011 popular revolts that toppled four autocratic leaders. Yet, this time round the anger does not always explode in mass street protests as it recently did in Jordan.
To be sure, fury at tax hikes in Jordan followed the classic pattern of sustained public protests. Protesters, in contrast to the calls for regime change that dominated the 2011 revolts, targeted the government’s austerity measures and efforts to broaden its revenue base.
The protesters forced the resignation of prime minister Hani Mulki and the repeal of proposals for tax hikes that were being imposed to comply with conditions of a $723 million International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan to Jordan.
Austerity measures in Egypt linked to a $12 billion IMF loan have also sparked protests in a country in which dissent is brutally repressed. Rare protests erupted last month after t…

Israel adopts abandoned Saudi sectarian logic

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By James M. Dorsey
Amid ever closer cooperation with Saudi Arabia, Israel’s military appears to be adopting the kind of sectarian anti-Shiite rhetoric that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is abandoning as part of a bid to develop a national rather than a religious ethos and promote his yet to be defined form of moderate Islam.
The Israeli rhetoric in Arabic-language video clips that target a broad audience across the Middle East and North Africa emerged against the backdrop of a growing influence of conservative religious conscripts and officers in all branches of the Israeli armed forces.
The clips featuring army spokesman Major Avichay Adraee were also designed to undermine support for Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip and backed recent mass anti-Israeli protests along the border with Israel, in advance of a visit to the Middle East by US peace negotiators Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt.
The visit could determine when US President Donald J. Trump pub…